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MS Gong Ride, 2009

12 November 2009

12 November 2009

MS Gong Ride, 2009

The Gong Ride

It’s a ride, not a race.

The Gong Ride is an annual fundraising event for the MS Society, held on the first Sunday of November (which, coincidentally falls after the last weekend of October, which is usually the first race in the Paddy Pallin series!), with 2009 marking the 28th time the ride has been run. Riders can elect to do the full course (90km, leaving from Sydney Park) or half course (58km leaving from Cooper St Reserve in Engadine). The TriHards, not being the type to do things by halves, entered the full course.

It’s a ride, not a race.

Following on from their tremendous success in 2008, which resulted in a record 13,600 entrants raising almost $2.1 million, the organisers elected to change the format somewhat; it was suffering from overpopularity. Consequently, in 2009 the field was limited to 10,000 riders, to avoid overcrowding on the roads; and each rider was committed to raising $200 for MS Australia. Early entries were offered to riders who had raised funds in previous Gong Rides.

It’s a ride, not a race.

The ride itself is a rather pleasant ride, departing from Sydney Park and rising towards the Royal National Park, taking in some fantastic views of the coast. The ride, however, comes into its own at the Royal National Park, where the city is left behind, and riders can enjoy the magnificent scenery, downhill runs and uphill climbs (fortunately, it’s also relatively shady in the park!)

It’s a ride, not a race.

The ride exits the park at Otford and continues up to Bald Hill, then follows the coast road, over the magnificent Ocean Bridge, to Wollongong. This section of the ride provides some spectacular views. (Given that due to some dubious decision making, riders are not allowed on the footpath of the Ocean Bridge, riding it at any other time would involve sharing some relatively small lanes with traffic).

The TriHards Riders

This year Father “Biker Boy” Brendan and the Commuting Cyborg-with Father Brendan being the far more serious of the two-represented the TriHards. Father Brendan was so serious, in fact, that he took to the road wearing Metallica lycra.

Biker Boy in his Metallica kit
So tough, he can wear Metallica riding gear!

Father Brendan is a recreational rider; he enjoys riding. He’s been known to ride 20km to the shops for milk! He’s a veteran of the Gong Ride, having completed it in 2007, despite numerous punctures and has gone in the Hartley Challenge (a 450km ride from Canberra to Kosciuszko and back). He even has a road bike, called Beauty.

The Cyborg is a commuter, he rides to and from work when the weather isn’t too bad, and will ride to the local (as in 2km) shops, though he will go for recreational rides, these typically involve something more interesting, like hitting the single-track at Mt Majura or Stromlo, rather than spending hours at a time with a bike seat crammed up his nethers looking at bitumen pass by. The Cyborg took to the Gong Ride on his commuter, a secondhand, bastardised mountain bike (taking on Father Brendan’s example, he dubbed it “The Grey Nomad”). As with his foolishness of the Bridge Run, where he intended to keep up with the freak McFly, he was hoping to keep up with Biker Brendan throughout the Gong Ride.

The Ride

The Cyborg, tired from having been up until 3:30 a.m. listening to revellers before departing for a train at 5:15 a.m. met Father Brendan behind the portaloos at Sydney Park for the start of the Gong Ride. The boys momentarily considered lightening their loads upon seeing the line of loos, however the queues quickly dissipated any such thoughts, and they headed for the line at approximately 7:15 instead.

A crowd of bikes at the start
So many nice bikes at the starting line!

The start line was a feast for eyes of the bike enthusiast, with bikes aplenty milling about. Of course, this also meant that there was a bit of a wait for the start, however, the TriHards didn’t mind as they jealously eyed off some of the beautiful bikes. The organisers reminded everyone over the PA that the Gong Ride is a pleasant Sunday ride, not a race, and then reminded everyone about the various stops along the way. To the TriHards’ surprise (because they’re not well known for reading instructions) this included a free muffin and coffee at Loftus!

At about 7:30 they set off in the middle of a large pack, walking the bikes with one leg until they were through the start line, when they clipped in and began to pedal their steely steeds. As they turned the corner, the pack had stopped again waiting to get onto the Princes Highway. The wait was short, and they were off up the highway in no time.

Riding up the highway
Cruising on the highway

Fortunately for the Commuter Cyborg, while they rode in a bit of a pack, he had no trouble keeping up with Biker Boy, who was slowed by the riders surrounding him. Unfortunately for the Cyborg, the front end of the Grey Nomad was feeling very unstable, while it was fine going in straight lines, it was very wobbly when trying to turn. This, however, didn’t present a problem on the straight stretch of the Princes Highway!

This stage of the ride was a nice, slow meandering ride, with some slight rises, but nothing to cause the TriHards any discomfort; it was a beautiful morning, and they were enjoying watching the traffic whiz past in the lane next to them.

Magnificent beach views on the ride
It was certainly more interesting to look at the beach than the lycra-clad bum in front!

The riders turned down Bestic Street, and onto General Holmes Drive, where they found a toilet to duck into and lighten the load for the rest of the journey; there wasn’t nearly as large a queue at this toilet as there was at the start! They ventured back onto the road into the middle of another pack, which once more presented the Commuter some relief, as the Biker Boy would be slowed once more.

The first climb of the ride came shortly after, with the course taking them over the bridge on Taren Point Road; though it was a short climb-and did present some excellent views of some of Sydney’s spectacular waterways (causing the Cyborg to consider jumping in a kayak instead!)

From Taren Point Road, they turned onto Kingsway, which presented a few more slight climbs for the boys. As they began to work a little harder, and the pack thinned out, the Cyborg’s thoughts turned to food. Charcoal chicken in fact. Perhaps he’d played too much Tekken in the past, where energy is gained by eating chickens throughout... At any rate, just so he wouldn’t suffer alone, he mentioned this to Biker Boy, who said he wouldn’t mind some Cajun fillet. Hmm, Cajun fillet. Kentucky (that would be KFC for you youngsters) made that now. Just as they were discussing KFC Cajun fillet, which neither had actually tried, they rode past a KFC. Both momentarily wondered whether or not they would serve bikes on the drive through, before realising that it was too early for them to be open.

So they continued on their path, until they arrived at Loftus Oval, where they grabbed their free muffins. This was to be a treat; as the Cyborg had never partaken of muffins before. Not quite charcoal chicken, but very nice nonetheless! At Loftus, they refilled their water bottles (they only had instant coffee, so the Cyborg settled for water), and looked at their bikes. Not only was the Grey Nomad’s front end unstable, but Beauty was starting to groan, causing Biker Boy some concern.

They pushed on regardless, and were soon at the back of the pack of the 58km starters as they departed from Engadine. The ride from here to the Royal National Park was pretty much all uphill, and the Grey Nomad wobbled its way up, while Beauty groaned her way with every revolution of her wheels.

After kilometres of climbing, they were into the Royal National Park, and some excellent downhill runs! Biker Boy left the Cyborg for dead and raced on his stable, groaning bike down the hills. For his part, the Cyborg attempted to keep up, until riding downhill at 50km/hr he discovered that the front end wasn’t just unstable, it wouldn’t turn! He leaned, and turned the bars, to no avail; it wasn’t until he slowed down that he could get the front wheel around; a cause for a great deal of concern on his part!

So, he contented himself to let Biker Boy get away on the downhill stretches, and catch him on the climbs. A bold plan for a bloke on a mountain bike, but he had the extra granny gear. It shouldn’t be a hassle! Then they started a climb, and the Cyborg caught Biker Boy once more, then passed him, rattling through his numerous mountain bike gears to get up the hill! The Cyborg could tell when Biker Boy was near by this stage, that familiar clicking and grinding of Beauty’s back wheel could be heard for miles!

The first half of the ride in the Royal National Park was a fantastic, undulating ride, with fast downhill runs, and moderate climbs. However, when they stopped briefly at Red Cedar Flats the TriHards began to talk about pulling out. The Cyborg was concerned about attempting to ride down Bald Hill with the unstable front end of the Grey Nomad, and Biker Boy was worried whatever was groaning in his bike was going to seize! At this point, their plan was to ride to Stanwell, where Biker Boy could catch the train home if things weren’t going well.

So, they began the big climb, the Commuter confident in being able to push on through, going down to granny gear should the need arise. They pushed up, and up, and up, climbing the hills - which didn’t actually seem as bad as they did the year before! Climbing into Otford, the Commuter began to feel the strain of the slope, and changed down to granny gear; but the derailleur didn’t move! Granny gear was there - the empty cog sitting there, unencumbered by chain, while the Commuter drained his legs muscling up the hill instead of using advanced mountain bike technology!

Pushing up the hill, they finally passed through Otford, not stopping with all the other riders at the Otford lookout, and just continuing uphill to the Bald Hill lookout, where rest and water awaited. The Commuter skipped his regular gelato stop, and followed Biker Boy to the mechanics tent. While Beauty was being seen to, he had the Grey Nomad checked out. The helpful mechanic tightened up some loose cone lock nuts, which helped somewhat, but there was no hope for Beauty, it looked to be her rear bearings, but they didn’t have the tools to open her hub.

The view from Bald Hill
That ocean was looking very tempting for a swim about now!
There was a queue coming out of Bald Hill
Nothing like a queue to rest the spirits!

Nevertheless, so rested, and more confident, the boys elected to try to finish the ride, and eagerly headed back out on to the road, and the pack. The pack which was stopped atop Bald Hill. Waiting. It was at this time that a very tall lady told the crowd that an enthusiastic young man was doing the entire ride on a single gear bike! Madness! Madness!

Within a few moments they were off again, down Lawrence Hargrave Drive, and the steep descent of Bald Hill. Once more, Biker Boy shot off, trying to get as much use out of Beauty as he could before she seized on him, while the Commuter lagged behind, hoping he wouldn’t have to turn!

Riding on the Ocean Bridge
One of the finer parts of the ride, going over the Ocean Bridge.

As they passed Coalcliff, they went onto the Ocean Bridge, which could arguably be the best part of the ride. Nice, new road, on a bridge overlooking the ocean! Though, it involves a slight ascent. As they climbed over the bridge, the ride was beginning to tell on some riders, and the boys were overtaking as much as they could! Not, of course, that it was a race...

A view from the Ocean Bridge
Nice view...

From this area, the ride becomes very urban, and Biker Boy was in his element. He increased his pace, seemingly to leave the Commuter for dead! But the Commuter was not giving up so soon! He pedalled and pushed the Grey Nomad, who had life in her yet, and they began to cruise with an average speed of about 40km/hr - which amazed the Commuter; while he’d had the Grey Nomad going over 60km/hr before; that was downhill - down Bald Hill in a previous Gong Ride! Now they were cruising uphill at 40!

Despite his effort, Biker Boy was pulling away from the Commuter, who was stuck behind three utes. As they came to a hill, the Commuter pushed himself, overtaking the cars (on the left) and fought himself not to slow down and give a Labrador in the back of one of them a pat on his way passed! Rounding the corner, he caught up to the Biker Boy once more, and kept him in sight for the remainder of the race! Um, I mean, ride.

The now seasoned veterans (they were in fact covered in salt, as a result of the water of their sweat evaporating, so very well seasoned indeed!) crossed the line at approximately 12:15, about four and a half hours after starting. The Immoral Support Crew and her companions, who had been breakfasting on the beach were at the line to cheer them in - always a nice welcome.

The ride was once more a very nice ride (not a race!), with fantastic scenery and a great range of people riding a variety of bikes - which included some blind people riding tandem bikes.

Commuter’s Computer Readout

It should be noted that the computer doesn’t count stops and walking pace, which gives an indication of how much time was spent waiting, walking and the like throughout the ride, which took 4 hours, 45 minutes in real time.

Date: 1 November 2009
Location: Sydney to Wollongong
Distance: 84.51km
Time: 3:51:19
Average Speed: 21.9 km/hr


Our sincere gratitude is extended to all the wonderful TriHards supporters who gave so generously to the worthy cause of MS Australia (and the TriHards riding)! Without their donations, the Biker Boy and Commuter would both have had to pay a far greater price than sweat, blisters and the entry fee for the race.... ride.

These generous donors include: Doc Runaway, Christina Rusan, Mr & Mrs GPS, Julia, Jack, Tigger and the Immoral Support Crew, Karen (of UDAC), Mr Jim, Miss Chong, Mr Dave and Miss Jane.

Post Race Notes

The Grey Nomad was taken to Kambah Cycles after the event (it’s normally serviced there prior to the event), where the trusty mechanic, Henry, found that the front derailleur wasn’t moving because the Cyborg had pushed a drink bottle into the cage too hard, pushing it into the derailleur. He also investigated the front end and found that a bearing was missing from the front hub, and the stem was out of whack.

Kambah Cycles is a great, no-nonsense value for money shop which the Cyborg regularly visits, and thoroughly recommends to anyone. If you’re around Kambah (or Canberra) drop your bike in there to get him to look at it - you won’t be disappointed!